A baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy is considered premature or born too early. The number of premature births in the U.S. is rising. Twins and other multiples are more likely to be premature than single birth babies.
Other terms often used for prematurity are preterm and preemie. Many premature babies weigh less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces. They may be referred to as low birth weight. Babies born before 34 weeks of pregnancy are often called early preterm.
Babies born between 34 and 37 weeks of pregnancy are often called late preterm or near-term infants.
Many women have no known risk factors for premature birth. But several things can make premature birth more likely.
Risks for the mother include:
Pregnancy risks include having any of the following:
Certain developmental problems can put unborn babies at higher risk for prematurity.
The following are the most common symptoms of a premature baby. But each baby may show slightly different symptoms. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of prematurity may look like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
A baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy is considered premature or born too early. Babies born before 34 weeks of pregnancy are often called early preterm. Babies born between 34 and 37 weeks of pregnancy are often called late preterm or near-term infants.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Treatment may include:
Premature babies are cared for by a neonatologist. This is a doctor with special training to care for newborns. Other specialists may also care for babies, depending on their health problems.
Premature babies are born before their bodies and organ systems have completely matured. These babies may be small. They may weigh less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces. They may need help breathing, eating, fighting infection, and staying warm. Very premature babies, those born before 28 weeks, are at the greatest risk for problems. Their organs and body systems may not be ready for life outside the mother’s womb. And they may be too immature to function well.
Some of the problems premature babies may have include:
Premature babies can have long-term health problems as well. Generally, the more premature the baby, the more serious and long-lasting are the health problems.
More babies are surviving even though they are born early and are very small. It is best to prevent preterm labor if possible.
It's important to get good prenatal care while you are pregnant. Your healthcare provider can help find problems and suggest lifestyle changes to lower the risk for preterm labor and birth. Some ways to help prevent prematurity include:
Your healthcare provider may give you the hormone progesterone if you are at high risk for preterm birth. Progesterone can help if you have had a previous preterm birth.
Premature babies often need time to "catch up" in both development and growth. In the hospital, this catch-up time may involve learning to eat and sleep, as well as steadily gaining weight. Babies may stay in the hospital until they reach the pregnancy due date. They may be cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and an intermediate NICU.
Talk with your baby's healthcare provider about when your baby will be able to go home. In general, babies can go home when they:
Before discharge, premature babies need an eye exam and hearing test to check for problems related to prematurity. You must be able to give care, including medicines and feedings, before your baby can go home. You will also need information about follow-up visits with the baby's healthcare provider and vaccines. Many hospitals have special follow-up healthcare programs for premature and low-birth-weight babies.
Even though they are otherwise ready to go home, some babies still have special needs. This includes things such as extra oxygen or tube feedings. You will learn how to take care of your baby if he or she needs these things. Hospital staff can help set up special home care.
Ask your baby’s healthcare provider about a "trial run" overnight stay in a parenting room at the hospital before your baby is discharged. This can help you adjust to caring for your baby while healthcare providers are nearby for help and reassurance. You may also feel more confident taking your baby home when you know infant CPR and safety.
Premature babies are at increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). You should always put your baby down to sleep on his or her back.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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